Particular events are often expressions of undercurrents that have been around all along.
Somehow, with the right provocation, they emerge on the surface of our personal or collective lives.
Investigations of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol have disclosed the presence of extremist perspectives.
While staying out of the limelight much of the time, they fester the toxins of various prejudices and phobias that affect parts of our human family who have felt that their concerns are not being heard.
Given permission and encouragement, those perspectives can erupt in obviously destructive ways, as we have seen.
Recent reflections have begun to connect a few dots in my reading of the narrative that carries the story of our journey, especially as it responds to the racial feature of our common life.
Following the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery’s legacy was enshrined in laws that perpetuated many of the blatant forms of segregation for the 100 years we know as the Jim Crow era.
Many of those who refused to believe that the South lost the war were joined by others who, eager to preserve white privilege, gave support to our own version of apartheid.
Even after the formal end of Jim Crow with the civil rights legislation of the 60’s, the residue of its perspective has lurked barely below the surface of our national life.
It has proven to be an effective force to embrace in political life, as in the “Southern Strategy” that emerged in the same way that Jim Crow came on the scene earlier. Ol’ Jim (not him, but his namesake perspective) was still very much alive.
Enter the current Republican Party, the offspring of a marriage 40 years ago between the political right and the fundamentalist branch of the Christian family.
The GOP has “grown up” to become what we see today – a party that embraces the most extreme perspectives of an era many wrongly thought we’d moved past.
Abandoning what has generally been understood as the values of “collaborative conservatism,” it has evolved in the direction of becoming exclusively the “Party of No.”
The sentiment behind Senator McConnell’s famous declaration in 2010 – that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” – has been adopted as the GOP’s modus operandi, as evidenced by last week’s vote on the first COVID-19 relief bill proposed following Biden’s inauguration.
This governing strategy seems committed to dismantling policies and programs that serve the common good and to reinstating vestiges of limited privilege.
Jim Crow and the Party of No do not look that different in terms of their relation to truth and their desire to perpetuate a way of life that is detrimental to justice and equity.
Jim Crow’s front line was able to shift its message from outright blatant racism to a concern for preserving a “way of life” that was being dismantled by governmental overreach into the social structures that had been in place for generations.
The term wasn’t around then but claims of being victimized by a “cancel culture” were prevalent.
It would be the modern period’s “sloganizers” who would come up with “cancel culture” to describe efforts to reinterpret and redirect the narrative of our common life in ways that would correct misrepresentations and remove traditional reinforcers of less-than-healthy ways of thinking about our fellow citizens.
Relocating symbols that glorify the Confederacy, changing names of athletic teams that promote stereotypes, and rewriting parts of our historical narrative to provide a more accurate reflection of our journey are seen as efforts to “cancel our culture.”
Then, of course, there is Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss.
Culture, of course can be “cancelled” by a disrespect of its values and a failure to embrace its lessons. It is a matter of what part(s) of culture might need to be cancelled.
I wonder if the real “cancel culture” of today’s political atmosphere is the passion that is being seen in quite a number of states to create legal obstructions to participating in the voting process.
There are few things more basic to our being able to function as a democratic republic than access to the ballot box, which is now being restricted in the name of “election integrity.”
The continuity of Jim Crow, the Party of No and the current unanimity of one party’s objection to anything proposed by the other may be an undercurrent with which we will continue to live.
How we respond to it will be the measure of our real “election integrity.”